Category: Digital Literacies

Archive for the ‘Digital Literacies’ Category

Feb 10 2010

Activity Showcase: Adapting Writing for Web 2.0 (Jessie Moore)

Published by

Students practice adapting writing for the Web 2.0 mediums they interact with daily – and that are becoming a more central part of writing in the workforce. Several corporations, for instance, have put their handbooks and other documentation on wikis so that users of their products can help improve the accuracy and usability of guidelines and instructions.

Students should be able to select and integrate multimedia elements that would enhance their text by providing evidence, illustrating a point, catching readers’ interest, etc. They should be able to make basic assessments of how their rhetorical strategies and writing processes might change when writing for the web.

This project works well towards the end of the semester as a capstone or cumulative project. If students know they will have an opportunity to adapt their writing for the web, they can pick topics that allow them to take fuller advantage of the multimedia components they can integrate into a wiki entry.

Materials/tools needed

  • Prior student project
  • Access to a wiki, such as WetPaint
  • Rhetorical analysis worksheet

Overview of Activity

  1. Prior to class, students select their favorite writing product from the class and bring an electronic copy to class.
  2. Instructor introduces Digital Literacies wiki. (5-10 minutes)
  3. Students complete rhetorical analysis worksheet to compare characteristics of the project’s original form to possible features in the wiki. (10 minutes)
  4. Students prioritize two aspects of their project that they could adapt to take advantage of the wiki interface. (5 minutes)
  5. Students post a revised version of their project to the wiki. (15-30 minutes, at instructor’s discretion)
  6. Students reflect on the changes they made and comment on additional web 2.0 features they could use if they had more time to adapt their writing. Students post their reflection with their project. (5 minutes)
    • How do the changes you made take advantage of the capabilities you have when writing in a wiki? In other words, what does the wiki interface enable you to do with your project that the original form didn’t?
    • What additional changes would you make if you had more time? What additional web 2.0 features would you use?
    • How might writing in a wiki change your writing process?

Feb 10 2010

Activity Showcase: Drafting Class Expectations for Peer Response (Jessie Moore)

Published by

Description of Activity

Students practice collaborative writing strategies, using digital literacy tools, while developing expectations for peer response participation in the class for the remainder of the semester. Small groups draft sections of the class document and then post them for comment by other groups. Based on the feedback they receive, groups revise their sections before the sections are combined to form the class document.


The activity gives students an opportunity to practice using collaborative writing tools (i.e., Track Changes and Comments) and strategies (i.e., file naming, tracking revisions, accepting or rejecting proposed changes, discussing proposed revisions). In turn, it supports students’ development of a more sophisticated writing process.


If students have previous experience with peer review, this activity could be completed early in the semester. If students don’t have much experience with peer review, they might take more ownership of the class expectations after the first peer review activity of the semester.

Materials/tools needed:

  • Blackboard discussion board.
  • MS Word
  • Track changes/Comments handout
  • Optional reading for homework
    • From Writing: A Manual for the Digital Age: Contributing to Group Projects (2g, p. 27), Peer Review (6h, pp. 101-105), and Tracking Changes (pp. 110-113)
    • From The Academic Writer: Guidelines for Group Work (pp. 39-40), Guidelines for Group Brainstorming (p. 239), and Guidelines for Working with a Writing Group (p. 288)

Overview of Activity:

1. As a class, brainstorm characteristics of helpful/unhelpful feedback (from peers, faculty, family members, Writing Center consultants, etc.). (5-10 minutes)

2. Divide the class into five (5) groups.

3. Students work in groups to draft one of five sections:

  • Writer’s Responsibilities in Preparation for Peer Response
  • Writer’s Responsibilities during Peer Response Discussions
  • Reader’s Responsibilities when making Written Comments
  • Reader’s Responsibilities during Peer Response Discussions
  • Instructor’s Responsibilities during Peer Response

Students draft their section in a Word Document.

Optional ways to encourage participation:

  • Each student could be required to contribute at least one idea to their section. (Students could practice using track changes within their group to demonstrate their individual contributions.)
  • Group members could be assigned roles (examples: time keeper, recorder, creative idea person, etc.)
  • Faculty member could prompt participation while circulating among groups.

4 Groups post drafts (written in MS Word) to a Blackboard discussion board. (10-20 minutes for drafting and posting, at instructors’ discretion)

    5. Instructor introduces track changes and comments. (5-10 minutes)
    (Consider having students explain how to use these features. While one student might not know all the features, you could pose questions to the class – i.e., If I wanted to hide the comments but didn’t want to delete them, what could I do? – and let students who are familiar with the tools answer while you demonstrate on the screen.)

    6. Another group offers feedback/suggests revisions using comments (to pose comments or questions) and track changes (to suggest revisions) and posts their document as a reply to the first group’s post on the Blackboard discussion board. (10 minutes)

      7. Instructor leads a whole-class review of each section and discussion. The drafting group introduces their ideas and the response group shares their suggestions/critiques. The drafting group is responsible for taking notes about the class discussion, reviewing the response group’s suggested revisions, and re-posting their portion of the document (with tracked changes accepted/rejected and other revisions based on the class discussion). (15-20 minutes)

      [The activity could end here for one class session and the class could briefly return to the activity during the next class session. Students could read the final document (created in step 8) for homework.]

        8. Faculty member (or student volunteer) combines sections and posts for final review.

          9. The class discusses this activity as an example of collaborative writing. (5-15 minutes, at instructors’ discretion)

            • What worked well?
            • How did the review tools facilitate collaboration among groups?
            • What did students do within their groups to facilitate collaboration?
            • How do the commenting and track changes tools change the act of collaborating?
            • In what ways did your group apply what you discussed about peer response to this activity?

            10. Final Reflection: Students write a 5-minute reflection on the experience and how they might use the strategies they learned in other contexts.

              Reflect on your collaborative writing experience. What strategies worked well for you as you collaborated with your group? What experiences challenged your individual writing process? How might you use the strategies you learned today in other contexts?

              • Consider using different strategies for peer response (handwriting, Word features, summative response, etc.) throughout the semester and prompting student reflection on which strategies they would use for different circumstances.
              • Facilitate a discussion highlighting these tools as one strategy for managing collaborative writing and response. Talk about challenges of different strategies and how you might decide which strategies are best for your current collaborative writing circumstances.

              Feb 10 2010

              Activity Showcase: Comparing Library Databases (Greg Hlavaty and Murphy Townsend)

              Published by

              Description of Activity

              This innovation gives students hands-on practice with three types of databases: general scholarly, news related, and subject-specific. Through discussion and group work, students will search several databases, evaluate search results, and create a collaborative document that analyzes the rhetorical uses and technical aspects of each database.


              By connecting technological skill with critical source evaluation and research methods, this innovation supports the College Writing course goals of developing in students a more sophisticated writing and research process and an awareness of varied writing conventions within the academic and professional worlds.

              Suggested Timing and Sequencing

              When implementing this innovation, allow at least half an hour of class time, although some instructors report using a full 70 minutes to implement it.

              This innovation is best approached early in the semester and should be integrated into an assignment that uses research. Those who’ve been most successful with this innovation have revisited these database strategies for each subsequent project that involves some level of research. If students do not have multiple opportunities to revisit these databases, they tend to revert to Google-dominated search methods and to forget about the availability of library databases.

              The Activity

              1. Have class generate a research question
              1. Introduce class to a general database (Academic Search Premier)
                1. Overall functions (full text, sorting, peer reviewed, etc.)
                2. Sample search
                3. Quick analysis of source types (popular? scholarly?)
                4. Narrowing and sorting functions
                5. Introduce various storage methods – Elon’s U Drive, Blackboard, Permanent Link, etc.
              1. Activity 1: Direct students to JSTOR. Students individually search for the class-generated sample topic in JSTOR. As a class, discuss their search results and compare sources and functions of JSTOR to Academic Search Premier (relevance, types of sources, ease of use, etc.)
              1. Introduce library Databases by Subject link.
              1. Activity 2: Have students work in groups and complete attached worksheet (see Group Database Worksheet below). Ask each group to generate a new topic and to brainstorm possible subject areas (disciplines) that this topic could fall under (ex. Articles on “Legalizing Marijuana” could conceivably be filed under chemistry, biology, psychology, history, law, etc.). Students then use one of these subject areas to pick a subject-specific database for this exercise.  Students compare the following three types of databases:

              General Scholarly Database: Students choose either JSTOR or Academic Search Premier and search for information on their group’s topic.

              News Database: Students choose either LexisNexis Academic or Newsbank and search for information on their group’s topic.

              Subject-Specific Database: Students choose one subject-specific database and search for information on their group’s topic.

              Have students compose a final in-class document that compares these three databases and is addressed to future College Writing sections. Some possible questions that this document could address include the following:

              1. Discuss your reason for choosing your general database. Why did you choose one over the other?
              2. Compare the number of results that each database generated. How many overlapping results are there?
              3. Using examples from your search results, generally compare the quality of sources that each database generated. Did each give mostly scholarly or popular sources? Which database returned the most credible research material?
              4. How many journals does each database subscribe to? Which database gives more specific information on your topic?
              5. Compare the relative ease of use of each database. Did any features stand out as being particularly useful?
              6. For what types of assignments or classes would you use each of these databases? Be specific.

              Student Reflection Prompt

              • What aspects of this activity will be most useful in your other college classes?
              • Discuss how this activity using academic databases will influence your responsible use of knowledge, both at present and in the future.
              • Did this activity change your perception of electronic information (organization, accessibility, etc.)? If so, describe your new outlook.

              Instructor Reflection Prompt

              • What aspects of this activity seemed to engage students? How could the presentation of this material be improved to be more engaging and relevant to students?
              • Describe any technological difficulties (personal or systemic) that you encountered. How could these issues be better approached?
              • How can this database use and source evaluation be built upon for future projects? Describe a specific assignment for which you could revisit this innovation and briefly remind students how to access and evaluate sources.

              Group Database Worksheet

              As a group, generate a new topic and brainstorm possible subject areas (disciplines) that topic would fall under. Compare the following three types of databases:

              General: Choose either JSTOR or Academic Search Premier and search for information on your group’s topic.

              News Database: Choose either LexisNexis Academic or Newsbank and search for information on your group’s topic.

              Subject Specific: Choose one subject-specific database and search for information on your group’s topic.

              Compose a final in-class document that compares these two databases and is addressed to future College Writing sections. Your document should address the following questions:

              1. Discuss your reason for choosing your general database. Why did you choose one over the other?
              2. Compare the number of results that each database generated. How many overlapping results are there?
              3. Using examples from your search results, generally compare the quality of sources that each database generated. Did each give mostly scholarly or popular sources? Which database returned the most credible research material?
              4. How many journals does each database subscribe to? Which database gives more specific information on your topic?
              5. Compare the relative ease of use of each database. Did any features stand out as being particularly useful?
              6. For what types of assignments or classes would you use each of these databases? Be specific.

              Feb 10 2010

              Activity Showcase: Illustrating Arguments (Paula Patch and Jean Schwind)

              Published by

              Overview of Activity

              This activity aims to help students understand that 21st-century “writing” often goes beyond words, sentences, and paragraphs to include visuals. Evidence to support written arguments is sometimes most effectively presented in pictures, graphs, tables, charts, maps, and other types of illustrations.

              The exercise requires students to examine the role of illustration in an article recently published in the New York Times. It then asks students to produce a brief illustrated argument of their own in response to the article. They will need to (a) determine what kind of image will most effectively illustrate their response, (b) find the image, (c) insert the image into their written text, and (d) caption the image using MLA documentation style.

              Connection to ENG 110 Objectives

              The exercise helps students develop a more sophisticated understanding of the relationship between purpose, audience, and voice, and an awareness that writing expectations and conventions vary within the academy and in professional and public discourse.


              This exercise works best mid-semester, after students have some experience in making effective rhetorical choices in written arguments. It takes about 50 minutes. (Part II can be finished as homework.) Because students tend to be careless about proper captioning and source citation, we recommend integrating illustration into subsequent classroom exercises and/or assignments to give them additional practice after they have completed this initial exercise.

              Part I: Examining an Illustrated Argument (whole-class activity)

              1. Show pre- and post-make over photos of Susan Boyle, published in the April 29, 2009, issue of the New York Times, via PowerPoint. Don’t label or identify the photos as you show them; see if students can do this. Then, ask students to explain the significance of the two images.
              2. Have students read the New York Times article from which these illustrations were taken, “Yes, Looks Do Matter” by Pam Belluck <>.  Discuss the relationship between the illustrations and the argument, using the following questions as prompts:
              • How does Belluck explain the meaning of these images of Susan Boyle? How does her analysis of their significance compare with what we had to say about them?
              • Are these pictures an essential part of Belluck’s argument? Or are they superfluous and expendable? (Would a “text-only” version of this essay be as effective as the illustrated original?)

              3. Have students find the article using the Newsbank database, where it appears without the illustrations. Ask students, has anything essential been lost?

              Part II: Producing an Illustrated Argument (individual assignment)

              Assignment: Write one or two paragraphs in which you:

              1. Describe a particular stereotype that has influenced the way you view others or the way others view you. (This stereotype can be based on race, ethnicity, gender, class, age, occupation, or other characteristics.)
              2. Explain the personal and cultural significance of this stereotype.
              3. Follow the “Guidelines for Using Illustrations” to present an image (e.g., a photo, cartoon, ad, or painting) within your paragraph(s) that vividly captures the stereotype you’re examining.

              Suggested Process:
              1. Show sample images of different kinds of stereotypes to get them started. (Create PowerPoint slides to show sample images.) Three that we might write about:

              • President Sarkozy of France standing on his tiptoes (because Jean is short):


              • stats from a recent article on living in retirement that illustrate stereotypes of the elderly (because Jean has parents in their 80s whom she worries about):

     (Peter Keating, “The New Retirement: Hanging on at Home,” SmartMoney, Aug. 2009: 38-39).

              2.  Suggest good image sources other than Google: Flickr, photobucket, Artstor, and other Art/Art History databases, etc.

              3.  Review “Guidelines of Illustrating Arguments” (Post to the class Blackboard account before class if you’re in a computer classroom; otherwise, distribute hard copies.)

              4.  Ask a tech-savvy volunteer to demonstrate how to insert images and captions in Word. (Have the volunteer insert the publicity poster for The Ugly Truth into the “Guidelines for Illustrating Arguments” document.) Pods should collaborate and help one another do this as they work on their own mini- illustrated arguments.

              5. Students create their own illustrated paragraph(s) about a stereotype that affects the way they see or the way others see them and post it (as a Word attachment) to a forum on Discussion Board.

              Questions for Reflection

              1. Ask students the review the postings of their pod members. Which of these mini-illustrated arguments is most interesting and effective? Why? Have a pod secretary answer these questions in a posted reply to the author of the best-in-pod.
              2. Have students answer this question in a posted reply to their own illustrated argument: What did you learn about visual arguments that you can use for other assignments in this class or any other classes?

              Follow-up exercises and applications to build on this workshop in later classes:

              1. How to create charts, tables, and graphs using Word tools
              2. How to format illustrations (and embed them within written text) using Word;
              3. How to copy/save pictures from an article in PDF form;
              4. Require students to illustrate at least one of the arguments that they present in a paper required for the course.

              Guidelines for Illustrating Written Arguments

              I. Introduction

              Visuals can sometimes convey or illustrate points that are central to your argument better than words. Color photographs of melting glaciers and shrinking mountain snowcaps powerfully enhance Al Gore’s presentation of the “inconvenient truth” of global warming, for example, just as the dynamic charts designed by physics professor Tony Crider dramatically demonstrate grade inflation at Elon over the last 30 years. (See .)

              Internet databases (free search engines like Google and Flickr and subscription databases such as Artstor, which is accessible through Elon’s library website) make it easy to locate and reproduce images. And software enables us to produce original graphics and insert images into the text of papers or PowerPoint presentations with a few clicks of the mouse.  As you research and write about a subject, be attentive to ways in which visuals—pictures, charts, tables, maps, cartoons, and so on—might advance your argument.  Be careful to incorporate graphics into a written text only when they serve a clear and explicit purpose, however. Otherwise, they’ll simply distract readers and waste space.

              II. Criteria for illustrating an argument

              In deciding about whether a written argument might be enhanced by illustration, consider these aspects of your rhetorical situation:

              • Your subject: Is it visual in nature, such as an analysis of a magazine or television ad, an explanation of the difference between burqa and hijab in Islamic culture, or an interpretation of the strange Indian in Benjamin West’s painting, The Death of General Wolfe (1771)? Illustrations may help you to write effectively about subjects with strong visual dimensions.
              • Your audience: Are you presenting data (e.g., the results of a survey or observational records) that you collected in research conducted for a psychology, sociology, biology, or environmental studies class?  Research data in the natural sciences, social sciences, and other academic disciplines are often most efficiently presented in a graph, chart, diagram, or table. Visuals are less common in many kinds of writing that you’ll do in the humanities, especially interpretations of print texts.
              • The medium or form of your writing: Are you writing for a medium that typically includes visuals and/or audio components as well as written text, like the Internet? Presentational media like PowerPoint also lend themselves well to visuals.

              III. Captioning and citing visual images

              In academic writing, illustrations should be captioned with both numerical and descriptive labels. Captions should also cite the source of the illustration. For example, if you were to use the promotional poster for The Ugly Truth in a study of gender stereotyping in recent romantic comedies, the caption would be:

              Fig. 1: Poster for The Ugly Truth (Sony Pictures, 2009).  Source: FilmOFilia. Web. 12 Oct. 2009. <>.

              Required parts of this caption are:

              1)      Numerical label: Fig.1. Fig. (short for figure) is used to label all illustrations  (pictures, maps, graphs, charts, etc.) except tables (which are labeled Table.)

              2)      Descriptive label: Poster for The Ugly Truth (Sony Pictures, 2009).

              3)      Source citation: Source: FilmOFilia. Web. 12 Oct. 2009. <>.

              Other rules for using illustrations in academic writing:

              • You must refer to the illustration within your text to clarify the connection between the image and your argument. In this case, for instance: “The promotional poster for The Ugly Truth (Figure 1) emphasizes the stereotypical assumption that women want love and men want sex.”
              • Place the illustration as close as possible to your first reference to it.
              • You do not need to repeat the citation for illustrations in your works-cited or references list.

              If you are writing for a nonacademic audience, captions include a descriptive label and the source of the image. Using the same example, the full caption for The Ugly Truth graphic in a nonacademic piece of writing would be:

              Poster for The Ugly Truth (Sony Pictures, 2009). Source: FilmOFilia <>.